Barbs keep flying in PulteGroup CEO drama

Founder’s grandson says family won’t seek to reverse Atlanta move.

The Pulte family, locked in a public spat over the direction of the homebuilding firm it founded 66 years ago, said Tuesday it has no plans to reverse PulteGroup’s move to Atlanta two years ago.

“We are very committed to Atlanta,” said Bill Pulte, grandson of 83-year-old founder and major shareholder William Pulte. “Atlanta has been good to us and we’ve got nothing against Atlanta.”

His comment came a day after the abrupt announcement that PulteGroup CEO Richard Dugas, 50, will step down next year. The company cited the Pulte family’s dissatisfaction with Dugas’ tenure — including the 2014 headquarters move to Atlanta from Detroit.

But the drama at the nation’s third-largest homebuilder spilled into Tuesday, as one of the company’s directors accused another of “unacceptable behavior” in aiding the Pulte family’s effort to sack Dugas.

James Postl, lead independent director on the homebuilder’s board, issued a scathing account of the involvement of board member Jim Grosfeld.

In a letter to shareholders Postl said Grosfeld — a one-time Pulte CEO who joined the board at William Pulte’s suggestion last year — engaged in “a number of actions over the past several weeks that we believe are inconsistent with acceptable norms of corporate governance…”

Specifically, he said Grosfeld end-ran the rest of the board by joining William and Bill Pulte at a private March 21 meeting with Dugas at which they demanded that the CEO leave or “there would be war.”

Grosfeld could not be reached on Tuesday, but Bill Pulte said Grosfeld had been excluded from key board discussions about Dugas.

Postl said that when Dugas told other board members about the March 21 demand, they asked Grosfeld to arrange another meeting between themselves and William Pulte “to better understand” his concerns. Grosfeld refused unless he was promised a continued board seat, Postl said.

“It was not until after we reminded Mr. Grosfeld of his fiduciary duties that he agreed to assist” in a meeting, he said in the shareholder letter. The board is not renominating Grosfeld for membership.

In Monday’s announcement the board defended Dugas’ performance and said he’d decided to retire early to avoid a messy fight. Hours later William Pulte issued a statement blasting Dugas for “repeated bad decision-making” and saying he’d hoped the CEO switch would be faster. Pulte contends the company has underperformed other homebuilders coming out of the recession.